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Posted on Mar 25, 2011 in Boardgames

BattleTech 25th Anniversary Intro Box Set – Miniatures Game Review

By Rod White

Classic BattleTech Introductory Box Set.  Miniatures Game Review.  Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs.  Designer: Jordan Weisman.  $49.99 

Passed Inspection: Includes 26 plastic models. It’s huge, it’s heavy, and a good deal at $50.

Failed Basic: The basic 24 plastic models won’t impress most miniature model enthusiasts. Although the game just got easier with this release, but requires really taking some time to give it a shot to fully “get it” too. It’s not hard, it’s just very different and in-depth.

It has been a while since there’s been an Introductory Box Set available for BattleTech. The original plan was to release a 25th Anniversary Edition to coincide with the actual 25th Anniversary. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way. After a two year delay I can report that the new Introductory Box Set, which will still be called the 25th Anniversary Edition will soon be among us!

The release date is set for March 30, 2011, but I just so happened to get my hands on the product a little early. For readers who aren’t aware of just what BattleTech is, let me give you a short and sweet introduction… BattleTech is the original giant robot bashing tabletop game of sci-fi strategic battlefield combat. It was initially called BattleDroids, but a certain Mr. Lucas I believe had something to do with the name change to BattleTech, because he had the rights to the name “droids” so BattleDroids was reborn as BattleTech.

If you’ve ever heard the term Mechwarrior, that’s also derived from BattleTech. A pilot of a giant robot in the BattleTech universe is called a Mechwarrior, and there have been countless PC and console games based on the BattelTech universe called Mechwarrior over the past 25 years as well.

All in all, this really is the best and most impressive starter set for BattleTech they’ve ever released.

Wizkids also had a very successful CMG (Collectible Miniatures Game) called Mechwarrior Dark Age, which was based in the BattleTech universe, set about 60+ years in the future, and it used a different ruleset and a different range of larger scale pre-painted plastic miniatures. Mechwarrior was also the name of the original pen and paper RPG from FASA (the company originally responsible for BattleTech).

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Today Catalyst Game Labs is the sacred holder of the BattleTech flame. In the early 2000s BattleTech was revived as Classic BattleTech, this was so that there was no confusion between it and Wizkids’ Mechwarrrior CMG game at the time. Now in 2011 Catalyst simply refers to the brand again as plain BattleTech minus the Classic prefix.

Mechanics…

There are several levels of rules for BattleTech which allow players to gradually increase the level of complexity. In this Introductory Box Set there’s a pamphlet called Quick Start Rules and then there’s the larger Introductory Box Set rulebook. There are also two different Record Sheets provided in the box, one is meant to be used with the Quick Start Rules, the other is the primary Record Sheets used throughout all of the rule-sets available for BattleTech. Using the Quick Start Rules players don’t need to keep track of the Heat management, and the sheets are smaller with less information on them, making it easier to learn most of the gameplay basics with. The Record Sheets is really where the bulk of your record keeping and micro-management takes place.

Also BattleTech is and always has been considered a board game, as it utilizes hex maps, but nice full color maps with hexes superimposed on top of the full color terrain visuals. These used to be paper, but now they’ve produced them like a traditional board game stock, which folds out nicely for easy setup and storage. They’re also more durable than the old paper maps. On the maps are higher and lower elevation levels, and various other terrain features can be found clearly marked within the hexes, all of which affect movement and gameplay.

Game mechanic-wise, BattleTech has always played out more like a traditional miniatures wargame game, and there are miniature models involved, plus the rules are just more in tune with a traditional table-top wargame than most boardgames I’ve ever played. Although as you can see by what I’ve revealed about it so far, it has Record Sheets which makes it much like a traditional pen and paper RPG like Dungeons & Dragons, it’s played on hex maps on a table top, but at the core the rules feel and play out like a traditional wargame. Therefore BattleTech really is a little bit of everything, and it’s quite involved even at the intermediate level.

Back to the Record Sheets now. In the Introductory Box Set the standard and Quick Start sheets are filled out with almost all of the data you need on them, so you don’t have to “roll a character” to play like a traditional pen & paper RPG. Beyond this box set there is an entire rulebook dedicated to creating your own Mechs and other units in the game, but that’s another product altogether. Overall most of the Record Sheets products are pre-filled out with various weapon setups. Creating your own units is completely optional.

The most intuitive feature on the standard Record Sheets is the silhouette of your BattleMech (Mech for short). There’s a layer of dots that can be filled in, and these are armor points. Underneath you have the systems sectioned off into different areas, all of which can take damage. So technically you can blow an arm off, or hit a place where ammo is stored, or even suffer an internal explosion.

One of the most ingenious features of BattleTech is Heat management. Mechs are technically 2-3 story tall robots with a single humanoid inside piloting them. A Mech can weigh between 25-100 tons, and that’s pretty much how Mechs are separated into specific weight class groups. Being these are machines, they can built up Heat by doing pretty much anything from Walking, Running and firing weapons, to being on the receiving end of a Heat generating weapon or effect. To offset Heat Mechs are equipped with Heat Sinks. However, players can exceed the limit of their Heat Sinks and excess Heat creates negative modifiers carried into the next round.

The negative effects can be as subtle as hindering movement by a point or two, earning you a negative modifier to hit, or as drastic as shutting down the Mech, and now it’s a sitting duck that can be struck by other players with positive modifiers for them even to hit. It’s pretty deep stuff. In this game you’re not just moving and shooting and then player two does the same every round., That is possible if you wanted to, but there’s a price to pay for not thinking things out and taking a more strategic approach.

The game is very modifier-driven. If I moved this turn and I want to shoot, I need to take that into account when I want to fire a weapon. On the flip side, if the target I want to shoot has moved at all I need to take that into account too, and it stacks another modifier onto what I need to hit with. Most Mechs have an arsenal of different weapons on board to choose from. There’s usually a nice combination of energy and insanely powerful projectile weapons on each Mech. Again if you think you can run in and fire every weapon you have off in every round, you’ll find yourself overheated and shut down in no time flat. There’s a lot of strategy to it overall.

What’s in the box and how it plays…

Inside the box you’ll find 24 unpainted plastic miniatures, plus two premium quality unpainted plastic miniature models. Also in the box you will find… a 12-page Quick Start rules booklet, a 36-page booklet with pre generated Record Sheets, an 80-page full color rulebook, a 56-page Inner Sphere at a Glance full color booklet, a 16-page full color Painting and Tactics guide, two heavy cardstock reference cards with all of the needed tables helpful to play, and two 18×24-inch game-board/maps to play on.

They also slipped in a full color booklet defining all of the different levels of BattleTech, which fills players in on what other rulebooks are available, and where they fit in. For instance, this is the Introductory Box Set, but the hardcover Total Warfare rulebook is the next step in line if you wanted to pick up a full blown hardcover rulebook. The Total Warfare rules include what you learned here, but also offers expanded or advanced rules like more in-depth rules for vehicles and flying units.

The Inner Sphere at a Glance booklet is a nice starting point which details the history behind the fictional setting that BattleTech takes place within. It will help players get up to speed on the universe and setting overall.

Gameplay is broken up into a few different Phases. Using the Quick Start Rules there’s an Initiative Phase which determines who goes first. Next is the Movement Phase, then Weapon Attack Phase, and then the End Phase. Each map has different terrain features which are also clearly defined on the maps, so there are different movement costs to enter different terrain features.

Also no matter what rule set you use, all attacks are declared first and then after they’re all declared, only then are they resolved. So if you declared to shoot your auto-cannon and a heavy laser both at unit X, and the first two shots eliminated the unit, you lose the remaining shots and can’t change your mind and decide shoot unit Z instead now with the rest. This makes for a more realistic flowing sequence of combat events, and it’s quite different than most wargame/miniature games out there. If an attack wasn’t declared first, it cannot be made. It’s that simple.

Using the standard rules in the 80-page full color rulebook that’s also included the phases are expanded to the Initiative Phase, Movement Phase, Weapon Attack Phase, Physical Attack Phase, Heat Phase, and End Phase.

So once you have the basics down with the Quick Start Rules, more intriguing gameplay begins by adding in heat management, and separating the attack phases into weapons and physical attacks. Mechs can punch and kick as well, or even pick something up and club another Mech with it, including but not limited to severed Mech limbs.

Also the 80-page rulebook appears to be the same text taken from the different sections of the Total Warfare core rulebook, only it’s all compiled into a single book in the proper order to make reading it and learning the game that much easier. Having the core rules for basic Mech on Mech combat makes it easy to figure out what you need to know without more complicated rules for flying, Heat, and so on. Experienced BattleTech playes will recognize the rules in Total Warfare as being the “true” core rules, but the Quick Start Rules will make the game far more accessible to novices, which is a good call in my view.

I was surprised to find that the Quick Start Rules even included some of the very basic construction rules for creating and using your own units in the game, which is something they didn’t even include in Total Warfare, which only comes in the form of the TechManual core rulebook. There are also limited vehicle and infantry rules included, which was also a nice surprise.

Conclusion

The first thing that impressed me about this new Introductory Box Set is just how big the box is, and how much it weighs. I expected a much smaller box, and it to be at least half the weight it ended up being. I couldn’t believe just how beefy and heavy the box was when it arrived. I thought they messed up and sent me two of the Introductory Box Sets until I tore into the mailing container to find that there was a single box inside. It certainly makes a statement.

The models included offer a nice sampling of all the weight class of Mechs that there is to choose from in the BattleTech universe. While I do feel that the quality of the plastic 24-model assortment is on the lower end of the spectrum, it’s clear that the idea behind this assortment is to give players an idea of what all the different models look like first and foremost.

I’d also rather see this set include the 24 plastic toy-soldier quality models as it does, versus just a dozen models of higher quality. The two premium quality plastic Omni Mech models, the Loki and Thor, are truly amazing..

The thing to remember too is that the models that most players who play BattlTech use minis that are made by Iron Wind Metals, and are made entirely of metal, not plastic. The Iron Wind Metals BattleTech models are also the highest quality officially licensed BattleTech models that money can buy. However, the rules are flexible enough that players can use paper cut outs, and samples are even provided on their website.

So the models included with this set are just intended to get you started, and started inexpensively at that, to give you an idea of how cool things can look. In comparison the metal models can cost $7-$15 each depending on the size of the model too. Thankfully you don’t even need anywhere near 24 models to get started, I’d suggest games with 2-4 models per side to learn the game first, and then to consider bumping up the unit count only after you have the rules down.

In terms of gameplay, I think the learning curve just got a lot easier with this newly redone Introductory Box Set too. BattleTech isn’t as easy to pickup as say a typical boardgame with miniatures like Tannhauser, or Dust Tactics, or even a miniatures wargame like Warmachine, but it is a lot more in-depth, and BattleTech has a lot more substance overall. It’s also still here 25+ years later, now being played by a whole new generation of sci-fi gaming enthusiasts.

This isn’t your Daddy’s BattleTech starter set that’s for sure. However if you played BattleTech 25+ years ago, chances are it wouldn’t be hard to start playing it again today, because for the most part the core rules are unchanged, they only made a lot of the more confusing and vague rules more easily understandable.

Catalyst essentially took 25+ years of rulebooks and managed to break down the information into just a small handful of Core rulebooks now too. For instance Total Warfare is the core rulebook for Mech on Mech, vehicle and air/space fighter/ship combat. It’s the combined arms Core rulebook.

All in all, this really is the best and most impressive starter set for BattleTech they’ve ever released. Players who own one of the very last Introductory Box Sets might recognize the models being similar, but even they had to be cut from sprues and assembled, in this new Box Set they’re assembled and ready to go out of the box, aside from the two premium quality models. In almost every way this new offering really is a step above all of the sets that came before it.

Armchair General Rating: 90%

Solitaire Suitability: 2

About the Author

Rod White is a veteran writer with almost two decades’ experience covering games, hardware, military aviation and combat simulations for the PC, as well as diecast collectibles and various tabletop miniatures war games. Formerly co-founder and owner of PC Multimedia & Entertainment Magazine, one of the Internet’s first true online gaming publications to cover PC games, simulations and hardware, he also hosted the ground-breaking RealVideo/RealAudio show called CombatReporterLive! for the AllGamesNetwork/Pseudo, Inc.

 

 

 

1 Comment

  1. Great review!

    I’m picking this up on payday for my boys. I have tons of metal minis and used to play BT every week. Then children came. At 40 pounds, this is a great buy, and since the minis are cheap, I’ll let the kids paint them.

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